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Rupa Goswami
(1489-1564 A.D.)

Raganuga-bhakti-sadhana of Rupa Gosvami

Gosvami, Rupa,

Born 1489, Bengal – died 1564, Vrindavan, India. Caitanya Vaisnava theologian, poet and dramatist, one of the Six Gosvamis of Vrindavan.

The name of Rupa Gosvami is most associated with that of Caitanya Mahaprabhu (1486-1533 C. E.), the Bengali saint and proponent of an important Hindu devotional movement that spread throughout Bengal and many parts of North India during the sixteenth century. Caitanya himself left no writing, instead, he left the task of systematizing his teachings to a group of theologians often known as the Six Gosvamis of Vrindavan. Rupa Gosvamiwas one member of this group of theologians.

Born of Karnatbrahmana ancestry of South Indian the family of Rupa Gosvami migrated to Bengal near the end of the fourteenth century. Rupa Gosvami was employed under the service of the Muslim Emperor of Bengal, Nawab Husein Shah and took the Muslim name of Saker Malik. The name Rupa Gosvami was subsequently given by Caitanya.

Rupa Gosvami is perhaps the most famous of the Six Gosvamis. He is important for establishing the theoretical foundations of Caitanya Vaisnava devotional practice, sadhana-bhakti. Rupa Gosvami‘s theories of devotional practice are primarily outlined in his two Sanskrit works: Bhakti-rasamrta-sindhu and Ujjvala-nilamani.  In his efforts to describe the practice of bhakti, Rupa utilizes the theory of aesthetics developed by Bharata in his ancient treatise on Sanskrit drama, the Natya-sastra. In his work Bharat goes into great detail explaining how dramatic performance can be used to evoke various aesthetic feelings known as rasas. Rupa takes Bharata’s rasa theory one step further by applying his ideas to religious practice, most notably towards the cultivation of devotional sentiments, bhakti-rasa. Rupa Gosvami describesbhakti as the most important rasa or aesthetic feeling, and, as in theNatya-sastra where drama is used as the means to evoke aesthetic feelings, Rupa Gosvami utilizes the divine play (lila) of Krsna as the supreme means to evoke devotional feelings. For Rupa Gosvami the divine pastimes of Krsnabecome the means to access ultimate reality. Rupa Gosvami builds his system of sadhana-bhakti almost exclusively on Krsnalila which are those stories found in the Bhagavat-purana and similar works that describe the activities of Krsna.

In his Bhakti-rasamrta-sindhu Rupa Gosvami‘s divides devotional practice (sadhana-bhakti) into three types: vaidhi-bhaktiraganuga-bhakti andragatmika-bhakti. The path of vaidhi-bhakti is that means of devotional cultivation that follows various rules that are conducive to the attainment of devotion. The word vaidhi means “what is based on rules”. Such practice includes reciting the names of Krsna (japa), worship of the sacred image of God, fasting, study of scripture, and so forth. Rupa Gosvami outlines sixty-four such procedures of devotional piety. The intent of these rules is to purify the heart of the performer in preparation for the next stage of devotion, raganuga-bhakti. Literally the word raga means passion. In this way the path of vaidhi-bhakti prepares the way for the path of raganuga-bhakti.

The path of raganuga-bhakti is distinct from vaidhi-bhakti because it involves the transformation of the practitioner’s identity from a person of this world into a divine participant within Krsna-lila. Rupa Gosvami defines raganuga-bhaktias that method of bhakti which follows the perfect devotion demonstrated by the inhabitants of Vraja. Here the people of Vraja described in Krsnalilabecome exemplary models of devotion. In their interaction with Krsna they display a perfect form devotion called ragatmika-bhakti. It is this ragatmika-bhakti that the followers of raganuga-bhakti must learn to follow by studying the emotional feeling of love exchanged between Krsna and the other participants of lila, such as Krsna’s boy friends, parents, lady friends and other members described in Krsna-lila. The followers of raganuga-bhakti gradually learn to model their feelings after these individuals. Thus Krsna’s friends, parents and other members become paradigmatic individuals.

In analyzing the emotional states of the participants of Krsna-lila, Rupa Gosvami describes five emotional types: those individuals who express thepeaceful mood (santa-rasa) such as meditating sages; those who express the mood of servitude (dasya-rasa) such as Krsna’s servants; those who express the mood of friendship (sakhya-rasa) such as Krsna’s friends; those who express the parental mood (vatslya-rasa) such as Krsna’s parents; and those who express the conjugal mood (madhurya-rasa) such as the gopis. Thus, by studying the emotional temperament of one of these individuals the practitioners of raganuga-bhakti can learn to experience or “taste” the rasa of these individuals. Eventually, through the practice of raganuga-bhakti the practitioner will rise to the level of raganuga-bhakti. In Rupa Gosvami‘s system of bhakti vaidhi-bhakti may be described as the grammar of love, raganuga-bhakti may be described as the literature of love and ragatmika-bhakti may be described as the actual poetic experience itself.

Copyright © SriPublications 2002. All rights reserved.

Shukavak N. Dasa


Haberman, David L. (1988). Acting as a Way of Salvation, A Study of Raganuga Bhakti Sadhana. New York: Oxford University Press.

Chakravarti, Ramakanta. (1985), Vaisnavism in Bengal 1486-1900. Calcutta: Sanskrit Pustak Bhandar.

De, S. K. (1961). Early History of the Vaisnava Faith and Movement in Bengal. Calcutta: Firma K. L. Mukhopadhyay.

Dasa, Shukavak N. (1999). Hindu Encounter with Modernity: Kedarnath Datta Bhaktivinoda Vaisnava Theologian. Los Angeles: SriPublications.





Rupa Goswami

Rupa Goswami
(1489-1564 A.D.)